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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Author’s Note: I wrote this piece originally on July 21st, 2012 in response to the Aurora, Colorado shooting at the screening on The Dark Knight Rises. It has since been updated to reflect the horrific actions in Newtown, Connecticut.

I feel an innate responsibility to comment on the shooting yesterday. Some people are going to say that now is not the time to talk about gun control. But when would be a good time? People are shot and killed every day in this country. To say that “now is not the time” is just as “political” as to begin talking about gun control–only, as Ezra Klein put it in his blog yesterday, it is to argue for the politics of the status quo. So let’s start talking. As this year (2012) comes to a close, it marks the worst year in mass shootings in modern United States history.

There were actually two horrific acts of violence at two different schools on December 14th, 2012. In one, a crazed gunman in Connecticut opened fire at an elementary school, killing twenty children and six adults before turning the weapon on himself. In the other, a man wielding a knife in a school in China stabbed 22 children.

People who defend unfettered gun rights in this country will talk about how violent people will use violence, regardless of the weapon. They will talk of how a man with no access to guns will still find weapons–in the case of the Chinese man, a knife–to commit their sick acts of violence.

To put it bluntly, this is sheer idiocy. The death toll in the Connecticut shooting? Twenty-eight. The death toll in the Chinese knifing? Between zero and three, as reports are conflicting. People who say that guns don’t kill people need to pull their heads out of the sand. People kill people when they use guns. People mostly injure people when they use alternative weapons. There is data to back this up, too: According to a study that was featured in the Journal of the American College of Surgery on “penetrating cardiac injuries,” someone who is shot in the heart has a 16% chance of surviving. If someone is stabbed in the heart, they have a 70% chance of living. If every person who used a gun to kill someone traded their weapon for a knife, the survival rates would quadruple immediately. As a side note: knives, ironically, are regulated. Switchblades remain illegal, while extended clips, armor piercing rounds, and semi-automatic and automatic firearms all remain legal.

Now on to the Aurora shooting, which had fewer deaths but far more injuries than the Newtown massacre. With over 70 people shot and twelve dead in the community of Aurora, Colorado, it marks one of the more violent attacks by a lone shooter in recent memory. Among the casualties: a pregnant mother and a six-month old child.

The gunman reportedly used extended clips—more bullets, more death, before he had to reload. Among the weapons he used: an assault style rifle with high-capacity magazines.

Imagine being in the theater, wondering when the shooting was going to stop, wondering when he’d run out of ammunition, only to hear him continue to pepper the crowd with death and pain.

The fact that he used the guns is due to some problem within his twisted mind. The fact that he bought the guns legally? Well that’s due to a different problem entirely—one that’s ours—and it’s one that needs to be reexamined before something like this can happen again.

According to a United Nations Report in the early 2000s, gun related deaths are EIGHT times higher in the United States than in countries that are economically and politically similar.

I understand the arguments that are bubbling up within some of you: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It’s the age-old argument from the NRA and gun-toters everywhere. In some ways, I agree with the argument. There needs to be stricter background checks, monitors, and safeguards to make sure that guns don’t get into the hands of the wrong person. But in a lot of ways, the argument is a load of crap. Here’s why:

The gunman easily passed any background test to get his weapons. His only run-in with the law was a speeding ticket. He had no criminal history and was a very smart med studenImaget. The gunman in Norway from Norway a while back, who murdered 77 people and injured another 319? He passed every background check and obtained his weapons legally even though he had been planning the attack for nearly a decade. Lesson? Background checks are hardly enough.

The second reason it’s a load of crap: Guns DO kill people. I agree that people kill people. It happens every day in this country. But people with guns kill others way more efficiently than people with other handheld weapons. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that guns can be used from great distances and that no one can stab or otherwise physically harm as quickly as certain legal semi-automatic weapons.

To turn defend semi-automatic weapons, extended clips, and even handguns using the Second Amendment is absurd. It was written by a group of people who used muskets and muzzle-loaders. The same people who wrote that into our constitution had no knowledge of the level of devastation that could be caused in a crowd by a single person and a single weapon. They did, however, create a system by which we could change the Constitution as times changed—they had the foresight to acknowledge that problems would arise that they had no ability to account for—and they saw that the Constitution was not timeless. Nor is it Gospel.

And if this is about “freedom,” please tell me how someone’s freedom to own a weapon is more important than the freedom of a six-month-old to not get shot. Please explain to the loved ones of the dead in this most recent tragedy how their fallen family members’ freedom to live is not worth more than a freedom to purchase a semi-automatic weapon.

Some argue that people who are hell-bent on creating disaster will do so anyway—ban guns and they will still find ways to get them.

But, the UK did just that—as a nation, they have some of the most restrictive gun policies on the planet. They have even banned handguns entirely. In the United States in 2009, the United Nations statistics record 3 intentional homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. The figure for the United Kingdom was 0.07—about 40 times lower.

I know that there are other factors to gun violence. I understand that murders would still occur, that people would still somehow get their hands on guns, and that people would still die. But it is entirely unacceptable that the United States would have a gun death rate as high as it is. In every major UN study since the 80s, The United States has had the highest amount of gun-related injuries than any industrialized nation. This will never be okay.

David Hemenway is the Health Policy Director at the Harvard School of Public Health and has studied violence prevention for over forty years. He writes that every nation that has stricter gun laws than the United States ultimately has lower homicide rates and lower gun deaths overall. In fact, “as a benchmark, in 2003, the United States homicide rate was seven times higher than that of these countries, largely because our firearm homicide rate was 20 times higher.”

He writes of a beautiful example in Australia: “Following the 1996 Port Arthur, Tasmania, massacre of 35 people, Australia acted quickly to effectively ban assault weapons. A mandatory buyback obtained more than 650,000 of these guns from existing owners. Australia also tightened requirements for licensing, registration, and safe gun storage of firearms. The result? In the 18 years before the intervention, Australia had 13 mass shootings. In the dozen years since, there has not been a single one. The laws also helped reduce firearm suicide and non-mass shooting firearm homicide.” (emphasis mine)

David Hemenway wrote about this in an Op-Ed piece for the Arizona Daily Star in 2011 following the shopping center shooting that killed six people and injured former U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others.

And here we are, a year and a half later, with more mass shootings. How many times will we, as a nation, need to learn these lessons?

Enacting stricter laws would undoubtedly lower the death rates dramatically, just as it has in every other country that has stricter gun laws than the US. But even if we lowered the statistics a tiny bit, wouldn’t it be worth it to save a few lives?

Isn’t it worth it to even save one life? If you answer with a “no,” try explaining your reasoning to the crying parents and families of the victims of gun violence.

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I am sitting at a computer and realizing the inevitable truth that the internet is far more entertaining when I have things to do than when I’m bored.

I am wondering why it is always easier to point out others’ selfishness at the times when I am being selfish.

I am dwelling on what it means to truly stand up for the oppressed when the oppressors are not people, but ideas and maxims.

I am trying to understand the tension between two uncertain truths…and yes, I realize the impossibility of what I just typed.

I am curious as to why it’s far simpler to view the world as black and white–especially since the people who view things as black and white tend to make problems more complex.

I am curious as to why those that read the Bible are quick to point out certain Scriptures as true for today, like Leviticus 19:28 (Do not…put tattoo marks on yourselves) but disregard other verses, like the verse before it (Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.)

I am trying to figure people out. I’ll get back to you on that.

I am tired of the vitriol between political parties. What’s the point of “democracy” if everyone hates each other?

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There are some major things I have been wrestling with recently, and as you can tell from the title, one of them is my attempt to fit into the politics of this nation (and this world). In my previous post, I talked about how God’s goals often don’t coincide with the aims of the United States. This is something I have a hard time grasping, yet at the same time seems so simple. How can the two coincide when they have such drastically different methods of power? But at the same time, aren’t we told that ours is a “Christian nation?” Don’t we see American flags standing next to crosses in many of our churches?

I’m currently reading a powerful book by the great thinker Gregory Boyd titled “The Myth of a Christian Nation.” I’m only partially through it, but in the first chapter he introduces a resonant (and oft-forgotten) idea. In today’s political climate, and in every political system set up by mankind, the traditional kingdom has been one of a “power-over” attitude. That is, every government, even democratic republics like ours, uses various methods to maintain “power over” its constituents. This can hardly be argued. With laws, mandates, and legislation–enforced by policemen and the military–governments use methods to have power over a people. The outcome and motivation is often good–relative peace and freedom can be maintained.

But this is not at all what Jesus intended his kingdom to be like (or associated with). Jesus continually talked about service and love as things that his kingdom stood for. He practiced a theology of foot-washing–that is, he formed relationships with some of the most “sinful” and hated people in his society. He called them to be his disciples. And then he washed their feet. So, whereas the kingdoms of this world recognize and practice a “power-over” system of governance, Jesus’ kingdom is supposed to be a “power-under” kingdom. Jesus hardly meant for his kingdom to fit into the political mold of the world; rather, his goal was to create a kingdom that was entirely upside-down and backwards in regard to the worldly kingdoms.

Insofar as any kingdom of this world is a “power-over” kingdom, how can we associate it with God’s kingdom? That is not to say that some power-over kingdoms don’t accomplish any good things. Many kingdoms accomplish great things that have benefited many. But unless an empire, a nation, or a government practices Jesus’ “power-under” ideas of service and love, how can it be that we call it a “Christian Nation?”

Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was. He responded by saying that God’s most important commandment is to love God with everything you have. Despite the fact that he wasn’t asked what the second most important commandment was, he quickly added that we must also love others with everything that we have. This says to me that this is just as important as loving God–if we love God but do not love others, how can we even say that we love God? As you love someone, you begin to love the same things and have the same passions as that individual. As we increasingly love God, we will begin passionately loving others. Therefore, any draws to the “power-over” system will diminish in the light of God’s calling for us. The simplicity (and difficulty) of the power-under system becomes clear: we are called to love.

 

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Just to begin, I’d like to point out that my last entry is probably an impossible story to live up to, as nothing like that will ever happen to me again. So, a caveat: no story from here on out will be able to match that last one in humor or plain weirdness.

Unfortunately, it’s been over a week since my last (and first) entry. I’ll try not to let that happen again.

A couple of days ago found me in an old church in southwest Washington, where a small group of us were staying the night so we could help clean up some of the property that had been ravaged by a massive flood. This church was built in the late nineteenth century and had a rather odd, if fascinating, collection of books. For no other reason than to kill time, some of us began looking through some of the old books and seemingly ancient Christian literature. As we flipped through one book that looked as if it was printed in the 1960s, we saw a painting of the Statue of Liberty. This may not seem odd, but this was a children’s book on the history of Jesus and the church. In the picture, in the background of the Statue of Liberty, was a faded depiction of Jesus’ face, smiling down at the statue.

This picture made us all start laughing. Looking at it, one would immediately get the impression that it is trying to depict America as God’s country. Of course, this isn’t a new concept. In the 50s, the phrase “Under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. And of course, the song “God Bless America” is sung over and over to celebrate God’s “light from above” guiding His favorite country. The American church often has flagpoles right outside their buildings, while many modern churches hesitate to hang a cross in fear of being offensive to newcomers. Christianity has become synonymous with “patriotism,” and vice-versa.

One has to sit and wonder, “Is this what He intended?”

When we pledge our allegiance to a flag—an inanimate object, a symbol of men, a representation of an empire—it amounts to nothing less than idolatry. To align, categorize, and otherwise segregate ourselves from the rest of the world by drawing lines in the soil and singing “God Bless America” is entirely against Jesus’ purpose for death. His purpose was to create a Kingdom, one that is “not of this world.”

The next several entries are going to be concerning this idea of an “apolitical God.”  The God of the Bible was a God above politics, outside the categories of men. So why do we continually support acts that assert American supremacy on the world? Why do Christians so often support the idea that this is “God’s Country?”

If you want to read much of what has inspired this line of thinking, check out Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne or Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd.

More to come on this soon…

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